The cat is out of the bag!
A new retail sensation is sweeping Vancouver’s Fraser Street, earning purr-fect reviews from cats and humans alike. Described by one enthusiastic shopper as “like Nordstrom for cats,” Happy Cat is the passion project of two Vancouver-based cat lovers, Nina Hymans and Rose Melberg.
Their vision was to create a store that served as a one-stop shop for cats, carrying everything from quality natural foods, to beds, scratchers, gifts and harnesses. And, while all of these products can be found in separate locations, no store in Vancouver had ever brought them together under one roof, instantly becoming a destination for cat lovers across the Lower Mainland. As you can imagine, we were feline excited to pay them a visit!
A Place for Cat Lovers
Behind every successful business there’s a story and it’s no different with Happy Cat. The store’s owners are both devoted cat lovers. Rose owns the delightfully floofy Wilson, star of Happy Cat’s amazing Instagram account, while Nina has helped facilitate the adoption of hundreds of cats while working at Vancouver’s Catfe. This experience gave the duo a unique insight into the needs of cat owners:
Rose: To even more of an extent that we thought, people have expressed that something like this needed to happen for the wellbeing of their cats. Some stores cater to the more fun, whimsical stuff but we really wanted our focus to be on the welfare of the cats. We wanted a place where cat people could come and feel like their needs were being met. So that’s the difference with Happy Cat.
Nina: It’s also an opportunity for people to geek out about cats. We’ve created a space where people’s obsession with their cats is understood and celebrated.
Rose: We want to take away the stigma surrounding cat culture. That loving cats is nerdy, or it’s something to be ashamed of. We love when people come in and talk about their cats. Almost every single customer, the phone comes out and they’re showing us pictures of their cats.
(Author note: I showed them pictures of my cats)
But Where to Start?
The duo had the passion and a vision. The time had come to make it a reality. Successful businesses are formed where passion and knowledge meet. Nina and Rose set out to use the knowledge they already possessed, while taking advantage of the supports available to entrepreneurs in British Columbia.
Rose: The whole process started about a year ago. We started by shaking hands on it and deciding to go for it. Then we thought to ourselves, ‘how do we actually do this?’
Nina: Luckily, Rose knew the industry already, she was in a great position to know what it would take to fill a store like this; the product, how much it would cost us and what kind of products we wanted to sell. Figuring out how to finance the business was next.
Rose: We knew that if we wanted finance, we needed to do a business plan. It was overwhelming. We started doing the research and quickly realized we couldn’t do it on our own. That’s why we reached out to Small Business BC. We started by attending a business plan seminar, then decided we wanted to work with a business plan advisor because we wanted to make sure we were doing things right. It’s so detailed it felt like writing a thesis. It took four or five months to write, including draft after draft. The financials, doing the numbers over and over again, it was hard work!
Working with a Business Plan Advisor
As Rose mentioned, writing a business plan isn’t something entrepreneurs need undertake alone. One of Small Business BC’s most popular services is our business plan advisory. Rose and Nina worked with Dylan Hrycyshen on their business plan, iterating upon the document until it was sufficiently polished to present to financial institutions. How did the duo find working with Dylan?
Rose: Dylan was great because we had all this information, but we needed to understand how to communicate it in a way the bank would understand. It helped us to clarify some of the financials, and coach us out of the habit of thinking short term. Our mindset had been like ‘we’ll get this done, then we’ll get this done, then we’ll open etc.’ Dylan was fantastic at talking to us about milestones like our first year, two years.
Rose: It was so helpful to see the bigger picture and I felt like Dylan really encouraged us to be optimistic, to think ‘what would it look like if everything went really well?’ and ‘what if all your dreams actually came true?’ – then what? It was fun and encouraging for us to think along the lines of ‘what would be our ideal’ that maybe we could hire someone in a year. A lot of people want to be the devil’s advocate and don’t realize they’re being discouraging when they say things like ‘make sure you don’t do this!’ or ‘you know you’re not going to make any money in the first year, right?’
Rose: Everyone on the outside is so careful with their advice that we needed a Dylan; we needed someone to say, ‘this is a great idea, take it further.’ That’s what working with Dylan did for us and we really appreciated that.
Creating a Paw-sitive Community
For Rose and Nina, creating a community around Happy Cat was one of their foundational goals. Customers are encouraged to bring their cats along to play in the store, while plans are afoot to fill the space with regular events, workshops and other activities tailored towards cat owners.
Nina: The amount of people who bring their cats into the shop has been amazing so far.
Rose: We encouraged it, but we didn’t realize people would take it to heart to such an extent.
Nina: It’s been fantastic for us because a picture of a cat on Instagram is so much more popular than a picture of a can of food.
Rose: It makes us so happy to see the cats come in. It means we’ve been successful in creating a safe space, people trust us that they can bring their cats in and we’re very mindful about it, we make sure the front door is closed, all of our plants in the store are cat safe and we don’t have any places they can hide.
Rose: There’s such an element of humour and light heartedness with cats in any situation that our social media has been really great for us. Our advertising budget has been practically zero because our social media has been the main thing that’s bringing people into the store.
Nina: The best part is, we’ve barely started! I’m planning our first workshop right now, it’s going to be on enriching your indoor cat’s life. We’re planning a painting class in our space that’s going to be about painting cats.
Rose: I have a friend who is an artist and who holds pop-up art classes. She’s going to hold a class in our space where people can come and paint cats. Some of the initial workshops we host will be by donation to VOKRA. It gets people into the store. And, when it’s educational, I don’t even want to charge people for that. It’s so important to us to make sure cats are being taken care of that we’re happy to do these things as a service. We want to encourage our ties to rescue organizations and doing events by donation means a lot to us.
Stop by and Say Hello
Happy Cat is located at 4171 Fraser Street in Vancouver. Stop by, make some new furrr-iends and pick up some treats for your cat!
Here to Help
Ready to follow in Rose and Nina’s footsteps and start your own business? No matter what stage of business, or what problem you face, Small Business BC offers a range of seminars and one-on-one advisory sessions to suit any business.